Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The Widow of Pale Harbor by Hester Fox

I was excited to finally dig into this novel, the second by Hester Fox. Her first novel, The Witch of Willow Hall, was published last year, and it was outstanding. So of course I expected her sophomore novel to be just as good. 

While I did enjoy reading The Widow of Pale Harbor, it didn't match my expectations. Gothic, yes, certainly. A small town--Pale Harbor, Maine is the backdrop for this tale of a woman who lives in a large mansion, alone with her companion Helen, who is reviled and treated poorly by the townspeople. Four years before, Sophronia's husband Nathan had died in a carriage accident, and the town blamed her for his death. The town didn't know Nathan was a cruel, vicious husband. 

It's 1846, and Edgar Allan Poe's short stories are wildly popular. Sophronia has taken over running her late husband's magazine, and deciding which stories will be published. So many Poe copy cats are out there, trying to make it into this popular magazine, and Sophronia fears she has angered someone by rejecting their stories. Strange things have been happening around town, and at her home, the Castle Carver. Dead ravens left on her doorstep, stuffed dolls left in trees...combine that with the endless fog, damp days and rain, and you've got a pretty atmospheric plot. Enter Gideon Stone, a man posing as a minister, who has traveled to Pale Harbor to open a new church. He's not a minister at all, but is doing this all out of guilt for letting his deceased wife down--and he's determined to be successful as a minister to somehow heal his guilt. Poor Gideon. He's no minister, that's for sure. He's a hard working man, large of stature, and he has no business trying to pass himself off as a minister. He knows he's hopeless at it, but struggles to carry on and find inspiration. 

Gideon meets Sophronia, and sparks fly. Both quickly succumb to their attraction, as all the while things are taking a darker turn in Pale Harbor. Now bodies are piling up, and the town blames it all on the Widow Carver. Some say she's a witch. The race is on to figure out who's behind the cruel notes, the mysterious deaths, and the clues that are straight out of Poe's famous stories.

I liked a lot about this novel, but I was a bit surprised at how much romance was center stage. Gideon and Sophie's romance burned pretty bright right from the start, and much of the storyline involved the two of them briefly fighting their feelings, then deciding to give in and admit they loved each other. It did help to have Gideon be the catalyst to understanding Sophronia's character; her background, her terrible marriage, and her complicated relationship with Helen, her companion. Helen is an interesting character, and a bit dark, too. However, I was a bit disappointed in finding out who was behind all the terrible things, and what their motive was--it seemed a bit far-fetched. I was hoping for something a bit more paranormal, I guess. This was definitely a gothic tale, but far more a historical romantic thriller than a spooky nail bitter. 

I'll read more of Hester Fox, for certain. A fun read for my cool and windy October nights.

Rating:  3/6 for a gothic romantic thriller that had an interesting idea in the plot, but fell short at the end. I was hoping for something more out of this world. You may, however, find yourself in a swoon over Gideon. He's pretty swoon-worthy. 

Available in paperback, ebook, and audio. 

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